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In ch. 8 of Rambam's Shmonah Prakim (Rambam's introduction to Pirkei Avot), he discusses free will. After maintaining that even the Egyptians had free will, despite Hashem telling Avraham that his descendants will be held in captivity and forced into slavery by a foreign nation, he explains that in the case of Hashem hardening the heart of Pharaoh, this was because Pharaoh had crossed the line of doing bad things out of his own free will and his punishment was to lose the ability to do tshuvah.

Then Rambam proceeds to bring evidence that Pharaoh did evil of his own free will:

"...as Scripture plainly states, (Exodus 1:9-10) "And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel is more numerous and mightier than we, come let us deal wisely with it". This they did through the dictates of their own free will and the evil passions of their hearts, without any external constraint forcing them thereto."

But this verse refers to the Pharaoh that first enslaved Yisrael, not the Pharaoh whom Hashem hardened his heart during the plagues! The first Pharaoh died. Why did the Rambam bring evidence from a different Pharaoh?

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    Maybe Rambam holds like the midrash quoted in Rashi, that Pharaoh didn’t die but was rather stricken with tzaraat. – Joel K Nov 19 '20 at 12:59
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    @JoelK That seems rather out of character. – Double AA Nov 19 '20 at 14:46
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The Rambam is addressing two different questions (1) A general question. If the Torah said a group will do bad like it says the Egyptians will by enslaving the Jews how can it be is said of them that they had free will? (2) A more specific question. How can you say Pharaoh had free will when the Torah explicitly says Hashem will harden his heart?

He is first answering the general question (1) by saying that the Torah indicates the Egyptians had free will and made their own decision to enslave the Jews. He then extends it to answer question (2) and says that although as established, in general, the Egyptians had free will, there reached a point where as a punishment the power of repentance was withheld from them .But even the Pharaoh who got the makkos initially had the free will to repent and avoid having his heart hardened.

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  • And does the Rambam indicate when exactly the second Pharaoh crossed the line? – Harel13 Nov 19 '20 at 17:10
  • The Rambam doesn't AFAIK but the Midrash says it was after the fifth Makko. See the Ramban on Shmos 7:4 – Schmerel Nov 19 '20 at 17:34
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While the Pharaoh that was punished was not the same one who initiated the policy, he did continue it. So once the Rambam proves that the original policy was done with free will, it is understood that the second Pharaoh also acted of his own free will.

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